These issues are some of NPCA's biggest priorities for national parks in 2022
Almost a year into President Biden’s term, there have been some important wins for our national parks and public lands, including the confirmation of a National Park Service director and the reinstatement of protections for Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments. And with the proposed repeal of the damaging 2020 Waters of the United States rule and a new proposed rule to reduce methane emissions, national parks could soon have policies in place that will help improve other serious problems.
However, there is still work to do. Here are five big priorities we’re pushing the Biden administration to take action on in the months ahead.
1. Fulfill the promise of America the Beautiful
Last spring, the Biden administration released the America the Beautiful report, detailing plans to protect American lands from climate change and biodiversity loss, two of the greatest threats facing our national parks. It is a call to action for the federal government and local communities to come together to protect the places they love in a way that is inclusive and equitable.
The report laid the groundwork. Now it’s time for the administration to put those ideas into action by supporting locally led conservation priorities. With federal support, we can preserve 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030, protect wildlife migration corridors, and champion efforts to ensure our national parks tell the stories of all Americans.
2. Invest in protecting national parks from a changing climate
Congress is providing the Department of the Interior and National Park Service with much-needed funding to repair infrastructure, improve the visitor experience and protect resources — all with an eye toward making our parks more resilient to climate change.
In November 2021, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a bipartisan effort that provides the Park Service with more than $1.7 billion to improve roads and bridges, modernize transportation systems, restore wetlands and waterways, and better protect wildlife and motorists, among other crucial projects. The Build Back Better Act, as passed by the House of Representatives in November 2021, includes additional funding to move parks toward a clean energy future and safeguard them from increasingly severe floods, fires and drought. The administration must make smart decisions with these funds to protect our most vulnerable natural, cultural and historic sites from the devastation of a changing climate.
3. Bring back needed protections for threatened and endangered species
The Biden administration is on track to undo two of the previous administration’s attempts to undermine the Endangered Species Act, and NPCA is pushing for three remaining regulations to be repealed in 2022. These changes will bring back necessary protections for the 600 threatened and endangered species that call national parks home.
But for these efforts to be successful, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs a strong leader in place. Martha Williams has been nominated as the next director; however, she has yet to be confirmed by the Senate. The Biden administration needs to push for her nomination to move forward quickly so the agency can make progress on protecting our most vulnerable plants and animals.
4. Begin meaningful engagement with parks and communities impacted by border wall construction
The miles of border wall built through national parks, communities and Native American lands on the U.S.-Mexico border have stopped wildlife migration, blocked the flow of water and permanently damaged sacred Tribal sites. At Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, construction of a 30-foot steel wall along most of the park’s southern border led to the destruction of namesake cacti, desecration of ancient gravesites and falling water levels at Quitobaquito Springs.
The Biden administration called for a temporary halt to construction, but some projects in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas appear to be moving forward. And important stakeholders such as landowners, Tribes and local community members haven’t been brought to the table to discuss how to repair the damage done by the border wall. The administration needs to initiate meaningful consultation so healing — for people and the environment — can truly begin.
5. Navigate toward a clean energy future
A November 2021 report from the Biden administration shows how federal agencies have prioritized oil and gas drilling — including on public lands surrounding parks — at the expense of parks, communities and our climate. The report details the need for commonsense reforms but stops short of laying out how to address the ways oil and gas development contributes to the climate impacts already hurting our parks.
Fossil fuel extraction on public lands accounts for nearly a quarter of all U.S. emissions. And until the administration has fully assessed the cumulative impacts new oil and gas leasing would have on climate change, the federal government should not issue any new leases on public lands. It is time to navigate toward a cleaner energy future.
Sheila Faalasli contributed to this story.
About the author
Christina Hazard Legislative Director, Government Affairs
Christina Hazard joined NPCA in 2006 and is the Legislative Director of Wildlife and Natural Resources for the Government Affairs team.